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Baucus proposes Missoula research center

| February 21, 2005 11:00 PM

BY ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

To the surprise of the Libby Center for Asbestos Related Disease, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is soliciting support in Washington, D.C., to establish "new research centers in both Missoula and Libby." In a news release, Baucus said the two research centers could help develop long-term solutions for treating people with asbestosis and related diseases. CARD doesn't know anything about Baucus' request, said Brad Black, director of the Libby facility. Black said a group of Libby people, including Dr. James Lockey, who is the director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Division of the University of Cincinnati, visited the Montana delegation last year at their Washington, D.C., offices. "The idea was for a research center in Libby," Black said. "Since that time, they (congressional delegation) have not asked us anything. We have an operational plan in place for the next 5 years." CARD has had some disagreements with the University of Montana researchers, some out of concern for activities, grants and research monies shifting to Missoula rather than being based in Libby. Members of the CARD board of directors have met with university researchers to clarify the positions and roles of each entity. According to Lockey, who serves on the CARD advisory Committee for Asbestos Research, what usually happens is one university guards such a population of health victims carefully. Black said CARD's plan is to have all research come through the Libby facility so that the asbestos victims aren't overrun with requests from various research organizations. With CARD orchestrating access and providing a database, some research dollars and employment will be created locally. Lockey and seven or eight other nationally known researchers volunteered to work with CARD as consultants more than a year ago to help establish a research center in Libby that would be accessible to researchers from around the globe. "We owe it to the community to bring in as much (research) through here as we can," Black said. "Our advisors believe it should be an open research group available to anyone in the country." Black and the CARD board of directors are not convinced the U of M researchers share that goal. The state Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 that urged the state's congressional delegation "to pursue funding options from federal sources to develop, build and maintain in Libby, Montana, a center for the study of asbestos issues and the treatment of illnesses related to tremolite asbestos." Last week, Baucus told Mike Leavitt, the former EPA administrator and new secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, that more must be done to help people in Libby afford health care after being exposed to deadly asbestos fibers by W.R. Grace. At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus thanked Leavitt for visiting Libby last year as EPA administrator. "They appreciate it, and so do I," Baucus said. "But as you know, Libby still faces some serious health issues. I hope you will work with me to improve upon what we've already achieved in Libby." Health care ranks as one of the most pressing issues facing Libby residents, he said. The news release said Baucus wants to direct more federal resources to the Center for Asbestos Related Diseases, which he helped establish in 2000. The Libby CARD clinic has done a "tremendous job" providing health care and screening for Libby residents, but Baucus said additional federal dollars will help provide more and better care. "I want to keep the momentum we have going in Libby," Baucus said. "We can and must do more to help Libby residents get the health care they need and deserve. They didn't ask for this lot. They've been through enough."